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Greenville Town Council: Reams vs. Council

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Kim Reams, an employee of the Town of Greenville has requested that Madison County Sheriff Ben Stewart and the Office of Gov. Rick Scott launch an investigation into “numerous violations of law, rule, or regulation that I have observed while working for the Town of Greenville.”

At the beginning of the regular meeting of the Greenville Town Council on Monday, Sept. 18, Stephen Webster, an attorney from Tallahassee representing Reams, presented each member of the Town Council with a packet which included the numerous charges and a formal Complaint. Webster also informed the Council of Reams' “whistleblower protection pursuant to Chapter 112, Florida Statutes, which include, but are not limited to, an award of costs and reasonable attorneys' fees that are incurred by Ms. Reams in response to the disposition of any adverse employment actions suffered by Ms. Reams in retaliation for her filing the aforementioned Complaint and request for investigation... Greenville officials should immediately implement procedures to protect Ms. Reams from any retaliation. Any retaliation will be challenged by proper legal process.”

One issue that has been a source of contention among members of the Town Council has been the status of former Council Member Kovacherich Arnold. Arnold's current term on the Council began on April 11, 2016. Since that time, Arnold has missed eight meetings. Of those eight meetings, four meetings were joined via telephone. None of those absences were excused by a vote of the Town Council. There were four meetings during which Arnold was absent without being excused by a vote of the Town Council and not joined via telephone. The dates of those meetings were: July 11, 2016; Oct. 6, 2016; Oct. 17, 2016 and Feb. 13, 2017. According to the Greenville Town Charter as amended on March 11, 2014, “the office of a councilmember shall become vacant if a councilmember is absent from three (3) regular and/or special Council meetings within twelve (12) months without being by council prior to the third absence.” According to the charter, Arnold's seat should have become vacated after the Oct. 17, 2016 meeting, as that would have been his third absence without an excuse within 12 months. To date, Arnold continues to occupy a seat at the table of the Greenville Town Council. He continues to vote on matters before the Council; claiming a Federal Statute that supersedes the Town of Greenville Charter allows him to be absent from 51 percent of the council meetings before his seat is vacated. Arnold also claims the Council never voted to vacate his seat. At this point, two members of the Council, Mayor Calvin Malone and Vice-Mayor Brandi Seabrooks recognize Arnold as legitimately holding the seat, contrary to the Town Charter. Two Council members, Joi Collins and Barbara Dansey recognize the seat as being vacant, in accordance with the Town Charter.

Members of the Town Council are paid a monthly fee for the work they perform on behalf of the Town of Greenville. Because it was determined that it was the legal opinion of Town Attorney Clay Schnitker that Arnold's seat had been vacated, he was no longer entitled to that fee. Reams asked for guidance from Schnitker. In a memo dated August 9, 2017 Schnitker stated, “It is our opinion that currently, as Town Clerk, you [Reams] are not authorized to continue to pay the monthly council member fee to Mr. Arnold, since in our opinion he is not currently a council member. If the Town Council votes to have you pay Mr. Arnold a monthly fee, then as Town Clerk, you would be authorized to do so. However, in my opinion, under these circumstances, such a decision by the Town Council would not be legal unless Mr. Arnold performs some type of work authorized by the Town for this fee.”

On the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 14, a deputy sheriff from the Madison County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) was dispatched to Greenville City Hall and advised to make contact with Reams in reference to an incident at City Hall involving City Council members. According to an incident report filed by MCSO Sgt. Jeff Rosenberg, Reams appeared to be distressed and shaking. Reams told Rosenberg that Seabrooks, as stated in Rosenberg's report, was “trying to force her into paying [Arnold] stating that he has not vacated his seat and is still attending meetings therefore he should be paid. Reams argued that in order for [Arnold] to be paid, the council would have to schedule a meeting and a vote would have to be made to determine if [Arnold] should be paid. Reams stated that when she refused to do what Seabrooks was asking, Seabrooks then began ordering her to give her Reams' personnel file. Reams stated that she told Seabrooks she would provide her a copy of the file, but said that was not good enough. Reams then said that City Mayor Calvin Malone came into the office and began ordering her around. Reams stated that she feels this is harassment and a hostile work environment and wished the incident to be documented.”

Rosenberg then spoke with Seabrooks and Malone. Both Seabrooks and Malone told Rosenberg that Reams had “refused to comply with any directives and do her job.” Malone brought up the issue of paying Arnold. Malone stated that “former city attorney [Schnitker] had wrote (sic) a letter of memorandum stating his opinion that Arnold should have to vacate his seat on the Council due to lack of attendance at the meetings, however the City Council did not vote and approve that the seat be vacated. Malone stated that Arnold has been attending the meetings and is still an active Council member and needs to be paid for his duties according to [the] City Charter. He [Malone] said that Reams refuses to pay Arnold because of the opinion of the City Attorney. Malone stated that the Attorney does not have the right to remove any council member from their seat and is only there to offer legal advice to the Council so that they can effectively carry out their duties, therefore as far as he is concerned Arnold is still a member of the Council and deserves to be reimbursed.”

During the Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 18, another of Reams' attorneys, Louis Baptiste, addressed the Council. “I have reviewed your Town Charter and under your Town Charter, no single [Council] member has supervisory authority over a City Clerk,” said Baptiste.

Seabrooks interrupted Baptiste stating that “This is citizen's participation.”

“I am a citizen,” replied Baptiste. “I am Louis Baptiste.”

“You live here in Greenville?” asked Seabrooks.

“No, I live in Tallahassee,” said Baptiste. “As a citizen of the State of Florida, I have a right to speak.”

“Greenville,” replied Seabrooks.

“If you stop me from speaking, that is a Sunshine [Law] violation,” said Baptiste.

“I'm just saying, he's not a citizen,” said Seabrooks.

“I would like to state that, for the record, if the City of Greenville receives State dollars, as they do; that gives me the right as a citizen of the State of Florida to speak here, unless you refuse State dollars. At that point, you can shut me down,” said Baptiste. “Until then, I have the right to speak. We did not come here to be aggressive or to bully. To us, the law means something, to us it matters. When one person tears against the law, they break the fabric of [the law]. Mr. Arnold is no longer on this Commission, per law. The City Attorney told you that, but you refuse to enforce it. I have no problem with Mr. Arnold, but the law is the law. I hope you guys will please start following the law.”

“There's two sides to every story, and we've heard his side,” said Malone.

“If we are refusing to abide by the Town Charter, what documentation are we using [with which to govern]?” asked Council Member Joi Collins.

There was no response to Collins' question.

When asked for a response to the letter presented by Reams' attorney, Seabrooks replied, “no comment.” When Mayor Malone was asked for a response, he indicated he had not read the letter.

It is unknown when the investigation into the Town of Greenville will commence. The next regular  scheduled meeting of the Greenville Town Council will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 9, at Greenville Town Hall, located at 154 Old Mission Ave., in Greenville.

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